#PlowTheSidewalks - A Campaign to Make Snow Clearance a Municipal Responsibility

 

In Chicago, winter is always coming.

Developed in partnership between Access Living and Better Streets Chicago, Plow the Sidewalks seeks to make sidewalk snow and ice clearance a citywide municipal service.

Originally proposed to the City via the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in February of 2022, members of the City Council are now requesting for a #PlowTheSidewalks pilot program to be added to the City’s 2023 budget.

Proposed Pilot Program

In order to make #PlowTheSidewalks a reality, we propose that the Chicago City Council first approve a snow clearance pilot program. This pilot program will allow the City to to assess logistical and operational nuances of a municipal snow clearance program prior to citywide service.

Program Parameters:

Proposed Budget – $750,000
Proposed Pilot Areas/Zones – We propose the pilot encompass six zones in different city neighborhoods, with each zone spanning approximately 2.5 square miles of both city and residential streets. 15 potential neighborhood zones can be viewed as a map here. Zones would cross both ward and neighborhood boundaries and dispersed across the city. Zones cannot be isolated to one region of the city.

Current System

Right now, the removal of snow and ice is the responsibility of adjacent property owners as outlined in the Municipal Code of Chicago (4-4-310 and 10-8-180):

“…a property owner, lessee, tenant, or other relevant person is responsible for removing “snow and ice from any sidewalk abutting such [property], and any sidewalk ramps intersecting such sidewalks.”

However, this does not account for a large number of locations, such as:

  • Curb cuts
  • Bus shelters
  • Highway over/underpasses
  • Bridges
  • Industrial sites
  • Sick, injured, or elderly property owners
  • Vacant buildings or lots
  • Inattentive or absent landlords or business owners

Fines and Enforcement

Failure to appropriately shovel can result in a fine up to $500, however, these citations are rarely issued. In 2022, WBEZ reported that of 6,000 complaints, the City only issued 1,600 citations.

Who benefits from municipal snow clearance?

Everyone. In particular…

Illustrated figures inside geometric shapes. From left to right are an elderly man walking, a blind woman using a white cane and guide dog, a woman using forearm crutches, and a mother pushing a stroller with a father carrying a small child.
  • 170,000 residents with mobility difficulties
  • 70,000 residents with blindness or vision impairment
  • 335,000 senior citizens
  • 110,000 households with at least one child under the age of 6

Additionally, there are innumerable people who do not have the option of staying or working from home, paying for rideshare, or owning their own car and need to be able to access public transportation. When snow and ice are not properly cleared they become hazardous to people and property.

Other positive outcomes:

  • Economic: When sidewalks are cleared, people can visit the local businesses in their neighborhoods, which are often independently owned
  • Public Safety: More people on the sidewalks means more eyes on the street and more intra-neighborhood familiarity
  • Environmental: Prioritizing pedestrian infrastructure enables people to reduce their car usage

Examples of sidewalk plowing programs in other cities:

Local

  • Wilmette (≈37″ annual snowfall)
  • Forest Park (≈37″ annual snowfall)

National

  • Rochester, NY (≈99.5″ annual snowfall)
  • Syracuse, NY (≈118″ annual snowfall)
  • Minneapolis, MN (≈52″ annual snowfall)
  • Holland, MI (≈70″ annual snowfall)

International

  • Montreal (≈82″ annual snowfall) and Toronto*, Canada (≈47″ annual snowfall)

*It should be noted that Toronto, Canada, is nearly identical to Chicago in size, scale, and population density. Toronto and Chicago also have comparable miles of sidewalk and topography, but Toronto receives more annual snowfall than Chicago.

Supporting Organizations

  • Access Living
  • Active Transportation Alliance
  • AARP – Illinois
  • Better Streets Chicago
  • Chicago Jobs With Justice
  • Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Independent Driver’s Guild of Illinois

Supporting Members of Chicago City Council

  • Ward 01 – Ald. Daniel La Spata
  • Ward 20 – Ald. Jeanette Taylor
  • Ward 22 – Ald. Michael Rodriguez
  • Ward 25 – Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez
  • Ward 33 – Ald. Rossana Rodriguez
  • Ward 36-  Ald. Gilbert Villegas 
  • Ward 40 – Ald. Andre Vasquez
  • Ward 47 – Ald. Matt Martin
  • Ward 49 – Ald. Maria Hadden